Ricardo Azziz, the former president of Augusta University, was the highest paid University System of Georgia employee in fiscal 2016, even though he no longer ran the school. VINO WONG / VWONG@AJC.COM

Former university president still tops Georgia pay list

Ricardo Azziz stopped being president of Augusta University — home to the state’s public medical school — in mid-2015, but that didn’t stop him from being the University System of Georgia’s highest paid employee last year.

Azziz, who also topped the system’s pay list in fiscal 2015 when he was still the school’s president, made $1.735 million last year, according to a review of state salary records by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Azziz was one of three $1 million-plus employees of the University System, and one of four in state government, according to records compiled by the state.

The state’s salary site, Open Georgia, does not include all the outside money that employees receive — school foundation money, for instance, helps fund the big salaries of football coaches.

Most of those at the top of the salary lists for the University System, the state and school districts in fiscal 2016 were the same as in fiscal 2015, with a few notable exceptions.

Former University of Georgia President Michael Adams still showed up in the top 10 list last year — making $676,931 — despite the fact that he hadn’t been president of UGA since 2013 and had gone on to become the chancellor of Pepperdine University.

System officials said they granted him two years of pay when he announced his resignation. They said he was paid “to be a resource and teach an occasional class.”

However, beyond the two years, Adams was paid $86,222 by UGA last year, and Charles Sutlive, a spokesman for the system, said he remains on the payroll.

“Dr. Adams provides a combination of some guest lecturing and teaching,” Sutlive said.

Sutlive said Azziz has not been on the system’s payroll since last fall, when he began working for the State University of New York as chief officer of academic health and hospital affairs.

“The majority of Dr. Azziz’s compensation in fiscal year 2016 was from a deferred compensation account that the University System had been contributing to since Dr. Azziz first began working for our system,” Sutlive said.

He added, “After stepping down as president, Dr. Azziz continued to see patients and conduct research.”

State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, the chairman of the House higher education budget subcommittee, has been a leading critic of taxpayer-funded “golden parachutes” for former college presidents.

“It’s way out of line,” Ehrhart said of Azziz’s pay last year. “I think what it really makes the case for is for us to quit putting these long-term obligations in contracts for people after they’re gone. I would like to think the days of those kind of contracts are over.”

The highest paid state employee in fiscal 2016 is also no longer working for the state. But he ran the Georgia Ports Authority during fiscal 2016. Curtis Foltz, the executive director of the authority before retiring last summer, was paid $1.947 million, according to state figures. Like Azziz and Adams, Foltz received a big payout when he left the post.

Second on the state list was Charles Cary, the chief investment officer of the Teacher Retirement System, who is typically at or near the head of the top 10 list each year. Cary made $806,490 in salary and bonuses working for the massive retirement system, which had $65 billion in assets at the end of fiscal 2016.

That was up from $764,516 in fiscal 2015. His compensation increased 5.5 percent even though the assets of the system declined in fiscal 2016.

By contrast, some of the teachers whose money he helps invest saw 3 percent raises last year. However, the AJC reported that only about 40 percent of school districts passed along extra pay money that lawmakers put in the budget to teachers in the form of a salary increase.

All the others on the top 10 state list worked for the TRS, the University System central office or the Georgia Ports Authority.

Among local school officials, Gwinnett County School Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks topped the pay list at $501,974. Wilbanks has been the superintendent of Georgia’s largest school system since 1996, an unusually long tenure, and he has typically been at or near the top of the pay list.

Second among superintendents, according to Open Georgia, was Atlanta School Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, who was paid $447,994, and third was Phyllis Edwards, the former superintendent of the city of Decatur’s schools, at $352,969. Edwards’ compensation increased 41 percent in fiscal 2016, according to state reports, even though she only served as superintendent half of that year.

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